“Dating in recovery has been compared to playing football without gear, running barefoot over sharp rocks, and having dental work without the benefit of painkillers. It can be the great escape, bounce you back into relapse, or trigger a new addiction.” – Mary Faulkner
Finding “the one,” whether for the first time or the hundredth time, can be a long and even somewhat scary journey. After all, the very concept of dating is difficult for most people. However, it’s an exceptionally long and tedious challenge for those in recovery. Finding love after addiction takes a lot of patience and careful navigation— so much so that one move can make or break lifelong sobriety. Fortunately, there are ways to make dating in sobriety less stressful and more fulfilling.
Loneliness in Recovery
Anyone in recovery will tell you that staying sober is just as challenging as getting sober. In fact, it may be even more difficult. Since a large part of post-treatment sobriety involves staying away from potential triggers, you probably don’t do things that you might have done a lot in the past, like go to parties. As a result, you might feel like you’re missing out on opportunities to meet new people and forge new relationships. Unfortunately, this new sense of loneliness is a typical adjustment for most people in recovery. Still, sober life doesn’t have to be lonely.
Getting to Know Yourself Again
Building (or rebuilding) relationships in recovery may be tricky, but it’s also a critical part of overcoming feelings of isolation. However, before you can even think about dating in recovery, you should get to know yourself again first. Remember, your addiction distorted your sense of self as much as it warped your view of others around you. So, now that you’re sober, you may not feel like you know who you are anymore. Thankfully, this lost sense of self is both normal and temporary. Continuing therapy through programs like aftercare and getting the support you need from loved ones will help you gain the confidence you need to feel ready for dating after addiction.
Finding Love After Addiction and During Recovery
There are several clashing opinions about dating during recovery, especially during the early stages of post-treatment sobriety. The official Alcoholics Anonymous policy doesn’t outright discourage dating during the early stages of sobriety. However, the Big Book does recommend abstaining from making any significant or serious changes in your life during your first year of sobriety. This includes forming new (and potentially relapse-inducing) romantic relationships. Most treatment professionals agree with this, which is why dating during early recovery is so ill-advised.
While it is generally a good idea to avoid forming serious romantic commitments during the first year of sobriety, it isn’t necessarily the “golden rule” of post-addiction dating. After all, finding love isn’t really any different than building any other kind of relationship. In either case, you can’t form a genuine connection with others unless you open up— and to do that, you must feel ready. So, whether you pursue any romantic relationships at any stage during your recovery is entirely up to you. Still, there are some important things to remember about dating and finding love in addiction recovery:
Make Your Sobriety a Priority
The thrill of entering a new relationship and being that much closer to finding love can shift anyone’s priorities. This is a problem for people in recovery for one primary reason. If you place more importance on romance than on your recovery, then you may start neglecting the parts of your routine that keep you sober.
In other words, trading in group meetings for nights out with a new partner can hinder your progress. Even worse, neglecting your recovery-related responsibilities in favor of dating can lead to more triggers and a higher risk of relapse. To avoid this, it’s best to make (and keep) your recovery as your top-most priority. The best way to do this is by following your aftercare/post-treatment plan and relapse prevention plan without making any changes to “accommodate” a date.
Take Things Slow
It’s not always easy, but it’s especially important to take romantic relationships slow during the recovery process. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an old flame or a brand-new spark. In any case, taking things slow is necessary for several reasons.
First, it ensures that both partners are on the same page about what they want and expect out of the relationship. You’ll also be better equipped to set clear boundaries regarding your recovery if you and your partner take your time. Second, taking things slowly allows for better communication about how the relationship affects the recovery process and vice versa. This is especially important if both you and your partner are in recovery. Finally, rushing into a relationship that you’re not ready for breeds a higher risk of relapse.
Don’t Trade One Addiction for Another
It’s natural to want to share a special bond with someone during the recovery process. Still, when it comes to finding love in recovery, the most important thing to be wary of is the potential to trade an old addiction for a new one.
All too often, people who rush into relationships during recovery end up forming ones that become their new sole focus in sober life. This is problematic because becoming obsessed with the idea of finding love and rushing into romantic relationships when you aren’t ready can lead to the development of codependence, which is one of the most significant contributing factors to addiction relapse. This is why codependence is also known as “relationship addiction.” In other words, post-treatment romance can become a new addiction if you place more importance on finding love than on your recovery.
Try to Avoid Building Romances with People You Know from Work, School, Etc.
This particular piece of advice may seem unreasonable, but finding love outside of things like school or work is actually much better for your emotional health and, subsequently, your sobriety. The reason for this has a lot to do with post-treatment routine.
In recovery, one of the most critical factors that influence your sobriety and abstinence is structure. You’ve built a daily routine to keep yourself busy, productive, and healthy. Disrupting that routine by bringing romance into the classroom or the office may not only be a distraction but one that could prove detrimental to your sobriety.
For example, if you date someone from work, your office environment might feel like a toxic place for you in the event of an ugly breakup. So, during recovery, it’s best to search for love in places that aren’t part of your everyday schedule. This can include coffee shops, yoga classes, or even meetings (if you so choose). In any case, be sure to proceed with caution.
Be Prepared for Some Awkwardness
Dating is awkward for just about anybody. However, for people in recovery, finding love comes with a unique set of challenges that you may not have recognized before getting sober. For example, you’ll have to navigate what dating will be like without alcohol. Meeting at bars or having wine with dinner is out of the question for anyone in recovery, no matter what their substance of choice was. The potential for triggers and relapse is just too high.
Additionally, the people you date during recovery might feel awkward themselves if they still want to drink knowing that you can’t. This, of course, is not your fault. After all, not everyone you date after getting sober will also be in recovery.
Still, that doesn’t mean that things can’t work out with someone who enjoys alcohol responsibly. Dating during recovery will probably be awkward on both sides at first, but it won’t stay that way once you find a partner that understands what you’re going through, where your priorities are, and what your goals you’ve set for yourself.
Be Honest with Your Partner About Your Past
Honesty is an essential part of any relationship, even freshly-formed ones. Still, since recovery is such a personal topic, it’s also important to know when (and how) to open up to someone new. If you are pursuing a relationship with someone you’ve met or started dating after getting sober, then you may have some reservations about discussing your past. Rest assured, everyone in recovery faces this dilemma. And the good news is that there’s no right or wrong way to go about addressing the proverbial elephant in the room.
When dating in recovery, you should be honest with your partner as much as possible. Although, how much you share and when you share it is entirely up to you. As a general rule, it’s wise to disclose to your partner up front that you are in recovery. This will help prevent any unintentional triggers on the part of your partner. However, you shouldn’t feel compelled to provide any further details unless you are comfortable, even if your partner asks. If you’re not ready to talk openly about your past addiction, then don’t. When you are, make sure that your partner is prepared, too. After all, communication is a two-way street. If all goes well, you may be one step closer to finding love after addiction.
Determine Early if Your New Relationship has the Potential to Become Love
Once you’ve made it past all these hurdles, you’ll have an easier time bonding with your new partner. At that point, you should start to consider where the relationship is going and if it has the potential to become the kind of long-term commitment you want. As you get to know and spend more time with your partner, step back to consider if the relationship is worth pursuing. There are several ways to do this, but the best is probably Dr. Tatkin’s method.
In his book Wired for Dating, Dr. Tatkin outlines five relationship goals that you can use to assess your relationship and its potential to become love. These are collaboration, fairness, sensitivity, security, and true mutuality.
One of the most significant benefits of any healthy relationship with the potential for love is collaboration. The best kinds of relationships are the ones that help you grow. So, if you and your partner do things to better yourselves and each other, you’re on the right track.
When it comes to dating and finding love, especially after addiction, fairness is about stepping up when your partner needs you to. After all, healthy relationships require reciprocity. If you and your partner are fair to each other, even in little ways, this is a very good sign.
Being sensitive in a relationship means recognizing and responding to your partner’s needs. Even if you are the only one in recovery, your partner will still have wants and needs that are just as valid as yours. So, keeping the line of communication open and maintaining a mutual sense of sensitivity is a clear indication that the relationship has great potential for a long-term commitment— and love.
Having a sense of security with your partner isn’t always defined by how long you’ve been together. Still, just like with any other part of a relationship, security has to exist on both sides. This means that you and your partner respect, care for, and protect one another. It doesn’t matter how new the relationship itself is. If you find comfort in each other, it’s a very good indication that you’re that much closer to finding love.
The best partners give as much as they take. This is especially important for relationships in recovery, especially if your focus is on finding love. If you and your partner can recognize and act on what’s right for each other, then your relationship has very high chances of success.
Addiction Treatment and Recovery Services at The Treatment Center
Dating and finding love can be a challenge during addiction recovery, but it isn’t impossible. The best ways to go about doing both are to spend time getting reacquainted with your sober self, follow these and similar strategies, and abide by your relapse prevention plan to secure your sobriety throughout the whole process. At The Treatment Center of the Palm Beaches, our sole focus is to heal the entire person, not just the addiction. With help and guidance from our seasoned staff of counselors and therapists, you can prepare yourself for life’s greatest reward: finding love after addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling to get or stay sober, please call us at (855) 889-5065. All calls are confidential.